Would cabinet shake-up affect health promotion?


During the last provincial election, the Ontario Liberal Party received 53 parliamentary seats, one shy of a majority. The Progressive Conservatives and the New Democrats won 37 and 17 seats respectively.

The 53 Liberal seats at Queen’s Park have left Premier Dalton McGuinty with what he called a “major minority” government. However, PC leader Tim Hudak saw it differently. He said that the electorate has placed McGuinty “on a short leash”.

Undoubtedly, the prospect of a minority government changes the strategy with respect to governing. There is likely going to be more negotiating and compromising as the Liberals will require the support of the PC or NDP in order to pass legislation and move things forward. Furthermore, minority governments run the risk of becoming inactive if the opposing political parties can not or will not support the plans of the governing party.

In fact, with 54 of the 107 seats, the opposition parties would be in a position to bring down the government if they chose to vote together.

Another outcome of fewer Liberal seats is a smaller cabinet. On October 20, McGuinty announced his new cabinet, the ministers who, along with their support staff and fellow MPPs, will help him lead this province thorough a period of global uncertainty as they strive to sustain improvements made in areas such as health care, education, employment, the economy and also to fulfill campaign promises.

Cabinet shuffles are commonplace, particularly after an election in which the governing party has significantly fewer seats than prior to the election. In this case, the new cabinet will have 22 ministers, down from 28 with some cabinet ministers taking on more than one ministry. For example, Laurel Broten is now the Minister of Education and Minister of Women’s Issues. Kathleen Wynne, former Minister or Transportation, is now the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. McGuinty has also taken on the Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs.

In addition to the expanded roles of some cabinet ministers, two ministries have been cut entirely, the Ministry of Revenue and the Ministry of Health Promotion and Sport. The Ministry of Revenue was largely responsible for administration of the province’s tax statues, tax credits and incentive and benefits programs and for managing relationships with the Canada Revenue Agency. Those functions will now be handled by the Ministry of Finance.

The Ministry of Health Promotion was created by McGuinty in 2005 to respond to the alarming issues highlighted in the 2004 report Healthy Weights, Healthy Lives, by Dr. Sheela Basrur, the province’s then Chief Medical Officer of Health who is now deceased. The report pointed to barriers Ontarians were facing in achieving optimal health through nutritious eating and appropriate physical activity.

The first Minister of Health Promotion was Jim Watson (2005 – 2007). He was followed by Margarett Best (2007-2011). In 2010 Sport was added to the ministry. A few of the major undertakings of this ministry included the Healthy Eating and Active Living and the Smoke-Free Ontario strategies, with associated programs and funding initiatives such as Eat Right Ontario and the Healthy Communities Fund.

Six years following the creation of the ministry, many of the same conditions that called for its creation remain. By many recent reports, children are more overweight, obese and inactive today than a generation ago. This is directly related to eating habits, and lack of appropriate and sufficient physical activity which drives the early onset of serious cardiovascular disease such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

The direct and indirect costs associated with chronic diseases are quickly growing out of control and threatens to cripple our economy. Many health advocates, including the Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance, feel the best investment in health care is to invest in health promotion. The group makes reference to British Columbia and Quebec which invest $21 and $16.80 per person respectively in health behaviour strategies compared to $7.40 per person in Ontario. They note that British Columbia has the highest life expectancy rate since the 1990s and B.C. and Quebec have the lowest diabetes rates nationally, 7.3 per cent and 7.2 per cent respectively.

The message is quite clear – increased investment in health promoting and disease preventing strategies today save lives and preserve our economy tomorrow.

Currently, the activities of the former Ministry of Health Promotion and Sport will be handled by Deb Matthews, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. Margarett Best is now the Minister for Consumer Services.

Those individuals and organizations that were pleased with the creation and direction of the stand alone Ministry of Health Promotion and Sport will be watching carefully for any loss of momentum, priority or resource allocation to health promotion and sport, particularly at a time when it is most needed.

Dr. Christopher J. Morgan is the director of Morgan Chiropractic & Wellness, an interdisciplinary health centre in Toronto, and the President of the Black Health Alliance, a network of community organizations, health professionals and community members working in partnership to advance the health and well-being of the Black community.  He can be reached at 416-447-7600 or chair@blackhealthalliance.ca

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